Illinois senior forward Mike Davis (#24), guarding Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor (#11), was a beast on the boards during the first meeting between the teams this season, grabbing 14 tough rebounds.

Fighting the Fighting Illini: Previewing the Wisconsin Badgers, Game 18

A mere two weeks after Illinois defeated Wisconsin at Assembly Hall, the Illini must head to Madison to try to sweep the series against the Badgers.

Due to the unusually short time between the two games in this series, not much has changed since Writing Illini last took a look at this season’s Badger team.

Here is a look at what has happened with the #21 Wisconsin Badgers since the last game against the Illini.

Wisconsin Badgers Season at Glance

The Badgers are 2-2 in the Big Ten, defeating Minnesota and Michigan but falling to Illinois and Michigan State.

Wisconsin is coming off a disappointing overtime loss at Michigan State, which seems weird to write when considering how tough it is to win at the Breslin Center but much more tangible when recognizing that the Badgers couldn’t hold onto a nine-point lead late in regulation.

Despite their .500 record in conference play, the Badgers have been the Big Ten’s most consistent and disciplined team since Bo Ryan took the helm prior to the 2001-2002 season.

Wisconsin always comes to play and has the fewest turnovers in the nation.

Each of the Badgers’ four losses this season have been very close (losing by a combined 21 points and no more than 8 points), and Wisconsin is most always in the game until the very end.

Although Wisconsin and Penn State have not met yet, it is a fairly safe bet to say that the Badgers will take care of business when it visits Happy Valley on January 29th, something that the Illini could not do on Tuesday.

Record: 12-4 (2-2 in the Big Ten)

Combined Record of Teams Wisconsin Has Beaten: 87-79

Combined Record of Teams Wisconsin Has Lost to: 48-13

Best Win: Minnesota (12/28/2010)

Other Impressive Wins: Marquette (12/11/2010); Boston College (11/26/2010)

Recapping the First Matchup between Wisconsin and Illinois:

On January 2nd, the Illini defeated the Badgers 69-61 in a game that was uncharacteristic of both teams.

Playing its best game of the season, Illinois attacked the basket and got to the line (something that this team has struggled to do in the last three seasons) 22 times compared to 12 times for the Badgers. For some perspective, Demetri McCamey shot 15 free throws, 3 more than the entire Wisconsin team, during the Illinois victory.

Rather than settling for the three ball, Illinois played with great balance, going 6-for-12 from three and hitting 56% of its shots. On the other hand, Wisconsin had a rough shooting night, hitting just 35% of its shots and firing up 35 threes (and making just 10 of them) rather than going inside to Jon Leuer, who was guilty of hoisting up too many threes himself.

Thanks to Mike Davis playing with great toughness on the glass, Illinois had 31 rebounds compared to 24 for the Badgers.

With the exception of Illinois committing 12 turnovers to just 3 for Wisconsin, the Illini controlled the first meeting, with the Badgers uncharacteristically looking like the much more uncomfortable team as opposed to the other way around (which is usually the case for any team that plays a Ryan-coached team).

During the victory, the Illini were in front of a sellout home crowd and in the middle of the best shooting stretch in school history. And yet Illinois still only won that game by 8.

The Badgers have not lost at home since the Illini upset them at the Kohl Center last season. Illinois was the only Big Ten team to win a game in Madison, and Ryan has the best home record of any active coach in the Big Ten.

In other words, Illinois has its work cut out for it.

Tomorrow’s PredictionWisconsin 70, Illinois 64

Illinois needs a win here to restore confidence after a humbling loss to Penn State and with games against Michigan State and Ohio State up next.

However, so do the Badgers, which can’t afford to lose here and still hope to have a shot at the conference title.

In contrast to the last game against Wisconsin but similar to Penn State, Illinois will struggle to get outside shots to fall, which has been the Achilles heel for the Illini during their four losses, while the Badgers will make the open shots that they missed in Champaign.

Illinois will not break 70 points this game, which has been the magic number for the Illini.

In games when the Illini have scored 70 or more points, they are 13-1, with the lone loss to Texas in overtime.

In games when they have failed to score at least 70 points, they are 0-3.

Wisconsin wins this one in front of a huge home crowd back for their first game since winter break.

What I Would Like to See Tomorrow from the Illini

  1. Strong rebounding. In their win against the Badgers two weeks ago, the Illini did a very solid job on the boards. This number would have been more impressive had 11 of Wisconsin’s rebounds not come on the offensive end. The truth was that Illinois did not outrebound Wisconsin so much as it didn’t give them a chance to rebound. The Illini shot so well that Wisconsin often had to inbound the ball as opposed to fight for a board. Penn State proved that Illinois can’t count on such outstanding shooting night in and night out, so the Illini need to be strong in the post and grab the ball for more chances on offense.
  2. Less turnovers. Before the Penn State game, I commented on how much Illinois was turning the ball over. It had not mattered because of how well Illinois was shooting, but against Penn State, it came back to bite the Illini in the rear end. As was mentioned earlier, Wisconsin leads the nation in fewest turnovers. If Illinois wants to stand a chance near the end of this game, it has to take care of the ball.
  3. No more show-boating. Illinois’ first possession of the Penn State game ended when a bad alley-oop attempt sailed past the backboard and out of bounds. Had that possession resulted in a basket, Illinois could have won or at least forced overtime. While the occasional show-off play can pump up a home crowd, it is not going to get fans excited on the road. And when such plays backfire, they not only give those fans verbal ammunition but waste critical possessions. This point is especially for Demetri McCamey, who played way too flashy and fast rather than making smart decisions against Penn State.
  4. Better competitiveness. It doesn’t seem likely that Illinois will sweep the Badgers and win two straight years at the Kohl Center. Both teams are too close, and the margin of error is much smaller on the road. With this in mind, Illinois needs to come out with the same focus that it brought during the first game against Wisconsin and fight for 40 minutes as opposed to playing in up-and-down spurts, as was the case against Penn State. Such sloppy play will not cut it at Wisconsin and could result in a double-digit loss.

Well, that’s all for now.

Until tomorrow.

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